Global Military Domination

Ralph Zuljan

Since the US-led intervention in Iraq, a lot has been written about American intentions to make use of its massive military superiority, resulting from the end of the Cold War, to somehow dominate the world. Anyone can see that American military spending exceeds that of other countries right now, in absolute dollar terms; the United States spends as much on military related expenditures as the rest of the top ten spenders combined. This is only one comparative measure of military power of course. But by any meaningful measure, American military power today stands as second to none.

Compared to most of the other big spenders, the United States devotes a relatively large percentage of its GDP to the armed forces. About four percent of American GDP is devoted to military expenditures, or about twice the average worldwide. If all countries were to start spending on their militaries at the scale of the US, American military spending would only equal that of the next two highest ranked powers, China and Japan. It would be dwarfed by the rest of the top ten. In a world where countries actually felt threatened, that is what would be expected. However, it is worth being mindful of the fact that several of those countries are actually American allies and their military power would weigh in on America's side.

Americans have a lot of allies in the world. Most of them were on board for the ride to Afghanistan, but the ride to Iraq produced a fissure that still needs time to heal. The US administration is making an effort to repair the damage but it should be noted that the fissure was hardly great enough to break the bonds of alliance. Those bonds are about a lot more than American military power and the allies do not appear to feel threatened by American military power.

In recent years concerns over American intentions have been reinforced by talk of a long war on terrorism. That talk is really just a euphemism for the engagement in Iraq. While some like to speak of a global engagement, with American forces deployed worldwide, there is really only one engagement that is soaking up most of the land forces and quite a bit of the air power the United States has available and that is in Iraq. Add US armed forces in and around Afghanistan and that accounts for most of the US armed forces engaged in the war on terror. Most of the other deployments are nothing more than a couple of advisors and support teams for a variety of missions.

The utility of all that power is marginal. If the idea of asserting US power worldwide is reduced to controlling a sandbox and a pile of rocks, perhaps a case can be made. American international influence right now is on a relatively low ebb. What military dominance does the America have over Russia, which still has a lot of functioning ICBMs? Or China, which is rapidly building up a serious nuclear capability and clearly planning on a power projection capability? Or India, which is effectively engaged in an arms race with China? There are signicant parts of the world in which claims of the United States asserting its military dominance are meaningless.

Furthermore, discussion of restructuring the US armed forces appears aimed at fighting small wars against minor countries. This effectively renounces American willingness to directly confront countries like China, India and Russia and will likely leave United States armed forces, particularly the US Army, incapable of fighting a major war. There are no ground forces in Taiwan, American forces in Pakistan are definitely not there to support it against India and the Cold War deployments in Europe have been drawn down and no longer constitute a credible defense against Russia. If America intended to dominate the world militarily, any restructuring of its armed forces would expected to give some consideration to war fighting with those countries where American military power is presently incapable of projection.

What this all boils down to is that if there were an American agenda to assert military power worldwide, it would be destined to fail. The rest-of-the-world is a bit much to dominate in any meaningful sense. Trying to do it would be foolish. While it is easy enough to criticize US administrations for particular policies and actions it does not appear that American governments are foolish enough to believe in such a fantasy. Rather, in the post-9/11 world, Americans have come to value come to put more value in securing their country and they have prioritized their expenditures accordingly. Given some time, United States will again come to see that although the US is readily the biggest fish in the pond for the time being, it also has a network of allies that make it even stronger. America is relatively secure. That is about as much as can be expected.

Originally published in "Articles On War" at on February 1, 2007.

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